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Squaw Valley: Worth Another Look

October 25, 1987|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. — The year was 1960 and the eyes of the world were focused on the Winter Olympic Games, staged around a mountain valley 196 miles east of San Francisco, 45 miles west of Reno and six miles from Tahoe City and the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.

The ski resort facilities, then just 11 years old, were minimal, but the mountains were intimidating enough to challenge every Olympic skier. Squaw Valley quickly became known as Squaw Valley USA.

Nearly 28 years have passed and the Winter Olympics will be back in the western mountains, this time in Calgary in the Canadian province of Alberta, Feb. 13-28, 1988.

But what has happened to Squaw Valley during these past three decades? What does it offer the ski world and families on winter vacations?

For starters: Where else in the ski world can you start off for the slopes aboard a Mississippi sternwheeler?

Impressive Mountains

Squaw Valley USA has an impressive collection of ski mountains: Granite Chief (9,050 feet), Emigrant (8,700 feet), KT-22 (perhaps the most challenging of all at 8,200 feet), Broken Darrow (8,020 feet) and Red Dog (8,000 feet).

These mountains are for skiers of all abilities, not just for those daring thrill-seekers who come to rocket down some of the most difficult runs on any continent. For the cross-country skier, there are many miles of Nordic trails.

The Squaw Valley beginner's area is at the bottom of an 8,200-foot summit, close to where the learning skier can absorb skills just by watching experts with Olympic ambitions bounce down a precipitous slope under control.

The cable car or gondola that takes beginners to this lofty area will also take them down again when they've had enough for the day on the gently graded slopes.

This season Squaw Valley USA will offer a choice of 27 lifts. They include the 150-passenger aerial cable car, the six-passenger gondola, two high-tech detachable quads--the Shirley Late Express and Siberia Express--16 double chairs, five triple chairs and two support lifts.

All Levels of Skill

This uphill capacity serves 8,300 acres of open bowls on the six-mountain cluster overlooking Lake Tahoe. Of the ski runs, 30% are for the expert and expert-plus, 45% for intermediates and 25% for beginners.

First-time skiers will be able to ski free during the season, expected to begin here about Nov. 20. Youngsters under 12 and the young at heart over 65 will ski for only $5 a day; the regular lift ticket price for adults will be $30.

"No waiting in line or your money back" is a program offered here at one of the ski world's fastest and most efficient lift systems, with an optimum uphill capacity of 35,380 skiers an hour.

Here's how the policy works: In addition to buying a lift ticket, the expert, intermediate or beginner can pay another $1 to enroll in the no-waiting program for his or her own category of lifts.

Suppose, for example, you're a beginner. There are seven lifts that can carry skiers of this ability level. The total waiting time at all seven lifts will be monitored and divided by seven. If this average wait exceeds 10 minutes, the refund will be paid to all registered beginners and they will ski free the rest of the day.

Throughout the Season

The policy will be in effect for all levels of ski ability during the 1987/88 season, seven days a week except during times of dangerously high winds, other seriously adverse weather conditions or "acts of God."

The ski-free offer for first-time skiers will be introduced this winter, and will be in effect Monday through Friday. First-time skiers 13 and older will be enrolled in the program by paying for their $30 adult lift ticket as a refundable deposit.

They will get a free cable car ride to the beginner's area. There they will be given a lesson on the ski equipment and oriented to the fundamentals of skiing. When they are taken back down the mountain by cable car they will pick up their refundable deposit.

To the 27 lifts now in service, more high-speed modern lifts are planned as part of Squaw Valley's five-year, $30-million mountain improvement program.

But the most visible changes to anyone who has not been here for a few years will be the Alpine resort community. At the heart of the community, the old Olympic Village and what was the original prefab housing for athletes has been remodeled in Swiss Alpine style.

Amenities at Lodge

The new Squaw Valley Lodge has 96 luxury studios and one-bedroom suites with kitchenette. A fireplace glows in the lobby. Guests can loosen up in the Nautilus room, relax in hot tubs, sauna and steam room. For summer, there are tennis courts and an outdoor pool.

Olympic Village Inn is a year-round resort with 90 one-bedroom suites, some with fireplaces, only two blocks from the lifts. Squaw Valley Inn has 60 rooms next to the cable car and ski lift area. It has a restaurant, bar lounge, outdoor hot tub for all seasons and a summertime pool.

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